Survey of COVID-19 Health Behaviors by the University of San Francisco Finds College Students Proactive About Preventing the Spread of COVID-19

SAN FRANCISCO (June 1, 2021) – The School of Nursing and Health Professions (SONHP) at the University of San Francisco (USF) has announced the results of a COVID-19 Health Behavior Survey of more than 2,500 USF students assessing students’ behaviors related to COVID-19 prevention. Led by SONHP Associate Professor Dr. Marie-Claude Couture, Associate Professor Dr. Kelly L’Engle, and Assistant Professor Dr. Annette Regan with assistance from USF’s Health Promotion Services (HPS), the survey findings showed that overall, students are taking protective measures to keep themselves and their communities safe.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, young people have often been blamed for the transmission of COVID-19 in the population, but we really don’t know much about the prevalence of COVID-19 in college students and in their engagement in preventive behaviors, including mask wearing and social distancing,” stated Associate Professor Couture. “Information about students’ current and anticipated engagement in protective behaviors when they return to campus will help universities like USF to develop engaging, persuasive, and effective health promotion campaigns.”

In collaboration with HPS and the International Student Scholars office, students in communication courses have been using the survey results to create flowcharts showing how to access vaccinations, posters that link community values to physical distancing and masking protocols, and TikTok and Instagram videos that encourage students to follow campus safety guidelines.

Faculty and students leading this project administered an online survey between February 22-March 8, 2021. 2,537 USF students responded to the survey built to assess students’ attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors related to COVID-19 prevention, including vaccination.

Regarding COVID-19 prevention behaviors and infection, key takeaways include that around half of the students surveyed engage in social distancing, and a majority of students wear masks, especially in public settings (77.3%).

Core findings related to student experiences during the pandemic show that more than half of students have spent time in isolation or quarantine, noting that the pandemic has been hard on their mental health. The survey also showed that students are eager to get back to “normal”, and plan to follow campus policies when they return to campus.

Related to the COVID-19 vaccine, 28% of USF students received at least one dose prior to March 2021, and 88% of students who are healthcare workers with patient contact were already immunized. Expected immunization rates were lower among non-Hispanic Black students, students finding it very difficult to get by on their current income, and students identifying as heterosexual or straight.
Few students endorsed myths about the vaccine, and beliefs that COVID-19 vaccines are safe was strongly linked with vaccine acceptance.

“We were surprised to see how many of our students were vaccinated already, given the survey was administered so early during the vaccine availability period. I think this shows that our students were very proactive about getting their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible,” says Assistant Professor Regan. 

“We were pleased to learn that the large majority of student respondents are taking great care around COVID-19,” noted Associate Professor L’Engle. “We were surprised to see this positive news because it is a striking contrast to negative media portrayals of young adults' behavior during the pandemic.”

Requests for further information on the survey results can be sent to Kellie Samson,

About the USF School of Nursing and Health Professions

The School of Nursing and Health Professions advances the mission of the university by leading in innovative solutions to health inequities and transforming healthcare using evidence-informed approaches. For more information, visit

About the University of San Francisco

The University of San Francisco is a private, Jesuit Catholic university that reflects the diversity, optimism, and opportunities of the city that surrounds it. USF offers more than 230 undergraduate, graduate, professional, and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, law, education, and nursing and health professions. At USF, each course is an intimate learning community in which top professors encourage students to turn learning into positive action, so the students graduate equipped to do well in the world — and inspired to change it for the better. For more information, visit